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[personal profile] daymarket
Title: Stairway From Zion
Rating: R
Warnings: Mentions of torture. Violence, war scenes, cursing, drug withdrawal, medical experimentation, species prejudice, sex.
Wordcount: 63k
Summary: Orwellian AU. During the same raid that had Castiel crashing through the windshield of Dean’s getaway car, Dean loses both Sam and Anna to the hands of the angels. Human and angel should hate each other as circumstances dictate, but life has a funny way of changing the preordained path.

~*~

4.2: Castiel

Castiel pretends to be asleep when Dean enters after his shower. He waits patiently for Dean’s breath to finally even out in slumber before slipping out of the bed they share, and it’s a matter of minutes for him to dress and make his way out the door. It’s long past midnight, and the halls are nearly deserted except for the odd passerby. Castiel fingers the smooth plastic of his pager and rereads the message there, sent just half an hour ago: Lab, now. –R.

What he’s doing—it’s not lying, strictly speaking. But at the same time, it’s not the truth, either.

Dr. Robert’s in the lab when Castiel enters, and the human’s face is aglow with excitement. Words spill out of him, disjointed but clear as he rushes from table to table: whatever the angels used on Ryan and Joe (if indeed they were held by angels in the first place) isn’t Grace. Normally, it would be dismal news to hear that yet another drug is entering an already volatile situation, but Dr. Robert’s bubbling with the fact that whatever the drug was, it seems to stimulate the production of an antibody that neutralizes Croat. Completely.

“Afraid that’s what’s wrong with Ryan, actually,” Dr. Robert says with a certain manic tone to his voice. “He’s younger, and the overdose of Croat to his brain caused the antibody to go a bit haywire. Once it flushed the Croat out of his system, it started latching onto his brain stem, which is why, you know, he’s having some problems. But Joe, Joe’s a thing of beauty. He’s only puked twice, did you know? And he was put down with a ten-twenty earlier, but a blood sample shows no trace of Croat in his system even though it’s only been three hours. Now, if he doesn’t show any problems like his brother, then I think we can conduct further trials and try to isolate—”

Castiel lets the words flow over him, noting with a very angelic sense of detachment the way Dr. Robert carefully sidesteps Ryan’s fate. He brushes past a still babbling Dr. Robert and leans down to peer at the blood sample himself. It confirms his suspicions as well as Dr. Robert’s excitement—whatever Joe and Ryan received, it wasn’t Grace.

Interesting. While he’s not precisely in the inner circle of the council, Castiel has a good idea of just how crippling the human reliance on Croat is. It must irritate the humans to be under the demons’ control even more than the angels’, and Castiel wonders just what humans would be willing to do to break free.

Dr. Robert announces that he’s going down to SR and gives Castiel orders to draw more blood samples before bustling out the door. Castiel watches the swinging door meditatively for a moment before moving to do as ordered. He looks briefly through the sheaves of paperwork Dr. Robert left, gathers up the required supplies and heads for infirmary two.

As he enters, the antiseptic smell brings back flashes of memory. It hasn’t been very long since he himself was a patient here—or a prisoner, depending on your point of view. He supposes he’s not either now, not really. But as to what exactly he is, well. That’s a question for more philosophic questioning than he can properly handle, even with his expanded worldview.

He shakes his head and directs his attention to the sleeping figures in the beds. Joe and Ryan, the objects of Dean’s internal conflict. Castiel studies them dispassionately, cataloging them in a way an angel would. Human male, approximately sixteen years of age, light-brown hair, approximately one point eight meters. Appears to be in poor condition with visible scrapes on the hands in arms. Last Croat injection, one day ago. Last Grace consumption? Last unknown drug injection? Both unknown. Second human male, approximately eleven years of age. Dark-brown hair, one point three meters tall, snoring slightly and out like a light, the poor sucker.

Castiel frowns at the last thought. He doesn’t have to guess where it came from. He’s still not sure whether it’s a good or a bad thing, or whether it doesn’t mean anything at all and just is. Castiel permits himself the luxury of a sigh before chasing the distractions from his mind.

He draws the blood as ordered: two thirty-milligram vials each, undoubtedly to be analyzed and picked apart for every scrap of information they hold. And then, when blood fails to suffice, perhaps the humans themselves will be under the microscope next. Castiel’s never served in the Nest of Purity, but he knows enough about how they work to guess the humans’ probable fate.

Castiel heads back to the lab and leaves the vials in the centrifuge to analyze later. He hesitates for a moment before he leaves, holding a small silent debate with himself. That’s another new thing he’s found to be particularly irritating in his post-Grace life: doubt. Doubt about whether he’s on the right path, doubt as to whether or not he should pry where he’s clearly not supposed to. He’s not entirely certain that that’s a bad thing, but…

With sudden resolution, Castiel heads back towards the infirmaries, but this time detouring into infirmary one, the smallest one. It’s surprising what you can pick up when you’re in the background and deemed just unimportant enough to be ignored. The paperwork that Dr. Robert left behind doesn’t just include two young human males, but also a third refugee who had been picked up by the patrol.

He punches in the code for the door and steps through the doorway as it opens. There’s a single prone figure lying on the bed, and if anything, he looks to be in far worse shape than the two young ones. Castiel looks down at him with a sense of clinical detachment, examining the stark lines of his face carefully. Gabriel looks almost nothing like the insouciant archangel he was. In this setting, he looks very much like a sick, injured human.

He doesn’t say anything. It’s unlikely that Gabriel’s conscious enough to process anything he says, and at any rate, conversation was never his intention. Castiel checks through the various IVs hooked up to his former brother, making sure that nothing unduly poisonous is being pumped into his system. He’s not sure why he’s here, really—out of a moribund curiosity (something new and post-Grace), maybe, or perhaps deep-seated loyalty (something he’s always had, just perhaps not to the right people).

~*~

Dean’s still asleep, but he jerks awake when Castiel enters. “Cas,” he says as he settles back into the musty pillow. “Y’up?”

Castiel pauses. It should be fairly obvious that he’s up, considering that he’s, well, up. Looking at Dean’s half-closed eyes, Castiel decides to skip the lecture and settles for a simple, “Yes.”

“Nuh,” Dean says, the word coming out as both a groan and a sigh. “Fuckin’ late. Where y’go?”

Castiel hesitates. While his superiors may feel free to obscure the truth as they please, lying is not an angel skill and definitely not one he’s learned before. “Bathroom,” he says shortly, suddenly grateful for the fact that Dean is clearly still half-asleep. “Go back to sleep,” Castiel adds as he kicks off his shoes and eases himself back into the bed. Dean gives another soft sigh and edges closer, his arm reaching out to wrap around Castiel’s chest.

Castiel settles into the sheets, letting Dean’s head come to rest on his shoulder. He runs his free hand through Dean’s hair and finds himself wondering (and not for the first time) what exactly he’s doing here. They don’t talk about it; they’ve made an unspoken agreement to never talk about it. It’s just an angel and a human, after all, relying on each other for something that Castiel can’t quite name. And if either of them has a panic attack, or if Dean vanishes in the morning without so much as a nod, or if Castiel finds himself holding on tighter than he should during the quiet of the night, well. It’s on par for the course.

Castiel moves his fingers to feel the steady pulse at the base of Dean’s jaw. Dean doesn’t tense up—he’s probably too close to sleep to notice—and Castiel counts it as a tiny victory. To what end, he’s not sure, but then again he’s not really sure of anything these days.

He closes his eyes and lets the heartbeat lull him to sleep.

~*~

He’s never had a dream before detox, or at the very least he’s never remembered one. Dreaming’s a new part of his post-Grace life, another piece of the puzzle he’s still trying to figure out. The first week after his initiation, it was flashes of Anna and the heavy, burning smell of smoke. His angel control keeps him from flailing or thrashing, but he can’t help but wake up sometimes feeling like there’s just not enough air.

Still, any dreams about Anna are generally vague, like faint impressions in the sand. The dream this night is oddly vivid, painted in stark colors that are nearly impossible to find even in the compound. In the way of dreams, he doesn’t quite recall what it’s about, but it soon becomes a moot point anyway as the low burn in his groin alerts him to more pertinent matters.

Castiel shifts away from a snoring Dean and eases himself cautiously free of the covers. It’s made slightly more difficult by the fact that his penis feels hard and stiff in between his legs, something that’s never happened before. Adrenaline shoots through his veins at this abnormality, and Castiel freezes up for one terrifyingly human second before managing to stuff the blind panic away. He touches the length of his penis gingerly through the fabric of his pants and blinks rapidly as a rush of…something…runs through him.

“Oh,” he says softly.

His heartbeat sounds strangely loud in his ears, and it takes a moment for him to realize that the sudden silence is because Dean’s not snoring anymore. Behind him, there’s the soft rasping of the covers as Dean moves, and then a hand pushes him lightly in the back. “Hey,” Dean says in the slurred voice of the half-awake. “You okay?”

Castiel’s mind goes terrifying blank for a moment, something that’s never happened to him before either. He closes his eyes and forces himself to take a deep breath, and then another. “I’m,” he says slowly, scrambling for a response. “Dean, I, uh,” he says, and now he’s stuttering, which is something new as well.

“Whoa,” Dean says, his voice still scratchy with sleep. Castiel closes his eyes as another surge of heat shivers its way up his spine. He shifts to try to relieve the pressure, biting his lip as the movement only makes it worse. “Castiel. You okay?”

Dean sits up, and Castiel can feel the heat of Dean’s body against his back. Castiel tries frantically to ignore his physical reactions at this, but even his lifetime of angel training doesn’t seem to be working. In a way, it’s like detox all over again: his body’s betraying him with new developments that are new, foreign, and entirely unwelcome.

“You look like you’re going to collapse,” Dean remarks, and suddenly all Castiel can be aware of is the fact that Dean’s hand is on his shoulder and seemingly burning through his coat. Castiel startles and pulls away, but his escape is hindered by the fact that his problem is harder than ever. “Whoa!” Dean says as Castiel scrabbles against the bedpost for balance. “Damn it, Cas, what the hell is up your ass?”

Castiel wears his trenchcoat to bed as a matter of habit (and maybe, just maybe for the reassurance of something constant), and now it does a decent job of hiding his problem. But now Dean’s standing up, and Castiel knows perfectly well that he should act normal if he wants Dean to back off. “I’m fine,” Castiel says, but it comes out as a weak rasp rather than the authoritative growl he was trying for. “I was just going to head out—”

“You’re sweating,” Dean says. “Cas. Did something happen while I was asleep?”

Castiel doesn’t say anything. He can feel Dean’s gaze on him, moving slowly down from his face—puzzled, initially, and then changing almost imperceptibly as his eyes drop to Castiel’s groin. “Oh,” Dean says. “Ah.”

Castiel lifts his eyes from the floor to look at Dean’s face. There’s—he’s—the corner of his mouth is twitching. “Is something wrong with me?” Castiel asks, his fingers tightening on the bedpost. He tries to keep the desperation out of his voice and mostly succeeds.

“Cas,” Dean says, and now he’s grinning, even laughing. “I, uh. Oh, man. I never—okay, wow. Seriously? Seriously?” Dean says unhelpfully. “And from the look on your face I’d’ve thought that it’d fallen off or something, not—”

“Dean!” Castiel growls.

“Whoa!” Dean says, putting his hands up in surrender. “Relax, Cas. It’s just a boner.”

“A what?”

“They didn’t teach you about this in angel boot camp?” Dean says, raising an eyebrow. “Please tell me they taught you this in angel boot camp.” Castiel shakes his head, and the last traces of amusement drain from Dean’s face. “Oh, fuck. I have to explain this shit to you? Talk about awkward, man.”

Castiel does not curse. Angels don’t curse as it’s generally regarded as a waste of breath, but right now Castiel has to battle the temptation to unleash a few choice ones. “Dean,” he repeats instead, which is not much more helpful.

“It’s a…thing,” Dean says finally, a definite note of awkwardness in his voice. “Guys—well, guys who aren’t coked out of their minds on Grace, I guess—get them. They’re, uh. You know, sometimes you get excited and—did you just have a wet dream?”

“What,” Castiel says, using all his control to make it a statement rather than a question. He doesn’t need this right now, he really doesn’t. As if he didn’t have enough to worry about with Gabriel’s sudden reappearance. “What is going on, Dean.”

“Shit,” Dean says, and now he looks visibly upset. He opens his mouth and then closes it again, his face twitching slightly as if he’s not too sure which expression is appropriate. Castiel waits with growing alarm as Dean closes his eyes, clearly having some internal argument that Castiel can’t hope to understand. Castiel looks down at the fabric covering his groin and shifts his hips slightly, hoping irrationally that this…boner…has gone away while he’s been distracted.

It hasn’t. It really, really hasn't.

He looks up as Dean exhales slowly, his eyes opening as he evidently comes to some internal decision. “Well,” Dean says, and there’s an odd note to his voice. “It’s not all…Cas, you don’t have to freak out, okay? It’s normal.”

“Normal,” Castiel repeats, but his heartbeat does slow down a little as Dean’s words sink in. Castiel takes a deep breath. “So how do I rid myself of this?” he asks, intent on cutting to the root of the problem.

Dean’s eyes widen fractionally as he swallows. “Ah,” he says. “That’s, uh, that’s…simple.” There’s another frozen moment in time, and then Dean pats the side of the bed next to him. “Sit down, Cas.” Castiel eases himself slowly down on the bed, watching Dean carefully. “There’s a lot of ways to get rid of this,” Dean says slowly, his fingers twisting in the sheets. “The easiest way, though, is just to touch it.”

“Touch?” Castiel says uncertainly.

He watches as Dean’s hand hovers for a moment. Lightly, like a butterfly coming to rest, Dean’s hand brushes over the head of his erection. Castiel gasps as another rush of that alien heat races through him. He jerks out of Dean’s reach before Dean can reach out again, holding up his hands to ward Dean off. “No,” he says. “Dean, don’t—”

“What’s the matter?” Dean asks, looking alarmed. He snatches his hand back as if he’s been burned. “Did I hurt you?”

Castiel shakes his head violently. “No,” he says, aware that he’s losing any scrap of control he’s ever had and hating the fact. It did feel good, it does, and a part of him wants more, but another part wants to bury himself in Grace and never emerge. Pain he understands, but this—this is more than pain, it’s something else equally powerful. And there’s nothing is as powerful as pain—is there?

“Cas,” Dean says softly. Castiel looks at him, searching for reassurance—reassurance!—in a human. This human, to be precise. He doesn’t know what they have and can’t hope to define it, but somehow it’s more real than anything else he’s ever had. “Look, man,” Dean says. “I didn’t mean to freak you out. I’m sorry.” He smiles, but it doesn’t look quite real even to Castiel’s inexperienced eyes. “Freaked myself out too, if that helps.”

Silence stretches between them for a moment. Castiel takes a moment to gather what’s left of his control, slow down his breathing, count his heartbeats. Dean’s the one to break the silence, his voice low. “So, uh,” he says. “I guess we’re done here?”

Castiel looks at him. Dean’s staring off in some distant direction, refusing to meet his gaze. Whatever’s going on, Castiel senses that it’s his turn now. “Wait,” Castiel says hesitatingly. “Dean…”

He’s not sure how to ask it, or even what to ask for. As the silence continues, Castiel reverts to what he knows best, asking the only way angels know how: “Again.”

Dean turns to look at him. There’s a strange light in his eyes as his gaze sweeps Castiel up and down, finally resting to meet Castiel’s gaze. But Castiel’s equal to it, and finally Dean gives a short, decisive nod. “Okay,” he says quietly. “Okay.”

Castiel braces himself for it, but the intensity still manages to wring a strangled gasp from him. Slowly, with deliberate movements, Dean eases Castiel’s pants off his hips, followed next by his boxers—well, Dean’s boxers really, most of the clothing he wears has been Dean’s at some point. But these details fade into significance as Dean locks his eyes on Cas’ and very gently, runs a finger across Cas’ bare skin. “Tell me if you want to stop,” Dean says, his gaze clear.

Castiel nods. His hips buck up involuntarily into Dean’s hand, and Castiel’s suddenly desperate for more touch, more stimulation, more of whatever it is that’s surging through his body, speeding up his pulse and breath. Dean doesn’t look away, and on one hand it’s shameful that he’s so vulnerable before a mere human. On the other hand, something inside of him never wants it to end.

Dean’s movements grow bolder. His hand curls around Castiel’s straining erection, tugging very lightly. His thumb rolls smooth, lazy circles over the heated skin, and Castiel’s fingers tighten on Dean’s shoulder as a wave of overwhelming heat surges through him. For a frightening, exhilarating movement, he can’t do anything but gasp wordlessly as it utterly destroys any semblance of control he’s ever had, his entire mind gone blank.

The wave ebbs slowly. Castiel finds himself panting like he’s just run a marathon, his fingers gone white on Dean’s shoulder. He stares at Dean, his mind reeling. Individual words tumble through his mind, none of which come close to making any sense.

“Dean,” he says finally, grasping for the one that’s closest in reach. “I—”

He doesn’t know how to finish that sentence. He does—he wants—he will. The sentences form in his mind, but there’s no proper angel way to end them. Like everything else, it’s new, and similarly like everything else, it’s because of this human. This one, insignificant human that Castiel would once have calmly turned over to the Nest of Love without a second thought and mostly likely would’ve never thought of again once his duty had been completed.

Dean blinks. Once. Twice. His hand lifts away from Castiel’s groin, covered with clear white semen. “Well,” Dean says, and for some reason the clarity’s fading from his gaze, replaced by discomfort. “You liked it?”

“Yes,” Castiel says softly, aware that he’s losing Dean but not sure why or how. “It was—”

“Good,” Dean interrupts loudly. “I’m glad.” He picks up Castiel’s discarded clothing from the floor and presses it into Dean’s hands. “I, uh, have to go.”

And he’s out the door before Castiel can even process what’s happened. Castiel sits on the edge of the bed, half-naked and clutching his clothes, left to wonder what exactly went wrong.

~*~

4.3: Pamela

Shit happens. Pamela knows all about shit; she’s an Oldtown native born and bred. When you’re a child of Oldtown, shit is a way of life. People die. Friends die. You go blind. But you cope, because that’s what humans do, and Oldtown still limps on. This philosophy works better in theory than practice, though. Sometimes, Pamela can’t help but wish, even if wishing’s a waste of time.

Like right now, for instance, she wishes that she could deck the moron who walked right into her. “Hey, what’s your problem?” she demands irritably. “What, you missing a couple eyeballs as well? I’ll be happy to fix it if that’s not the case.”

“Oh, shit,” a male voice says, and Pamela sighs. “Pamela, I’m sorry. I was—uh—distracted.”

“Yeah, Dean, I can see that,” she says dryly. “Or feel it, anyway.” She lets him hoist her up to her feet, and she rubs the back of her head ruefully. “What bit your ass, anyway? You sound like crap.”

Dean laughs, but it doesn’t sound entirely real to Pamela’s practiced ears. “Just stuff.”

“Uh huh. Stuff,” Pamela says. “It better be some stuff is all I’m saying.”

“Yeah, well,” Dean says, and there’s a definite note of uneasiness in his voice now. “You could say that.”

Pamela sighs. “You in some kind of trouble, Dean?” she asks. “You…you coping okay, I mean? A lot of things have happened, I know, and…”

“I should be asking you that, shouldn’t I?” Dean says. “I, uh. You doing okay?”

Pamela considers it for a moment before shrugging. “Well,” she says slowly, “I could use a hand getting to the cafeteria, if you’re up for it. Help a poor old lady along?”

“I’m sorry about that,” Dean begins, but Pamela waves him off. She’s done the whole sorry, so sorry routine and she’s tired sick of it. It doesn’t do a cent of good, and it just makes her feel like even more of an invalid. She links her arm into Dean’s and waits expectantly. Good boy that he is, he starts walking, and Pamela can sense that they’re headed down to the cafeteria.

“Suck it up,” she tells him, not unkindly but rather firmly. “I’m not dead.”

Dean’s silent for a moment. Pamela’s more acutely aware of silences than ever before, and she knows that they can be as expressive as words. “Pamela,” Dean says finally, and his voice sounds oddly vulnerable. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but uh…”

“That doesn’t sound good,” she remarks as his words trail off. “Let me guess. You’re asking me if I’m glad to be alive? Alive, but blind?”

“Sort of,” Dean says. He pauses before adding, “It’s not just about blindness, Pamela.”

“Relax, tiger. I figured as much,” she tells him. She can tell that they’re approaching the cafeteria by the increased sound of voices, and she lets go of Dean’s arm once they’re inside in order to take a tray. Getting the Mush of the Day gives her an excuse to analyze the tone of Dean’s voice and gives her time to formulate her reply.

“We were pretty good, weren’t we,” she says as Dean guides her to a table, and they sit down. “The four of us? Keeping order all over Oldtown?” Her voice sounds wistful even to her own ears, but she doesn’t try to hide it. Dean gets it, after all. Their patrol didn’t just work, they fucking kicked ass. Even with the cold war between Anna and Dean near the end.

“I guess we were,” Dean says softly.

The implication’s there in his words; that none of them will never be that good again. Anna’s dead. Sam’s, well, Sam’s probably dead. She’ll never hunt again, and Dean…

“So what’s eating you?” she says, dipping her spoon gingerly into her mush. “Aside from the obvious.”

“There has to be something more than that?” Dean asks, his voice dull.

Pamela swallows her mush before she replies. “I guess not.”

“You think…you think he’s dead?” Dean asks, sounding peculiarly childlike for a moment. Pamela sighs and reaches out to him. Her hand brushes rough stubble, and she cups his face lightly. “Pamela,” he says as she rests her hand against the heat of his face. “You think we can find him?”

“Maybe it’s time to mourn, Dean,” she says at last. “Let him go. Once and for all.”

Dean laughs, an ugly, broken sound. “Easier said than done.”

“So’s coping after you’ve gone blind,” she says, the words coming out sharper than she intended them to. “I’m working on it. So should you.”

“A hunter’s life,” he mutters into her palm, but her ears catch the words anyway. “All sunshine and puppies.”

“And unicorns shoot rainbows out of their ass,” she says agreeably, removing her hand. Dean gives a weary snort, but the silence this time is somewhat less tense. “So, what’s been going on lately? Give an old lady a vicarious thrill, will you? I heard you got discharged from Missouri’s ward of doom.”

“Just barely escaped with my life,” Dean says, and she can hear the relief in his voice at the change of subject. “I, uh, got discharged yesterday morning. I was getting sick of therapy, anyhow. Signed up for patrol.”

“Kick any angel ass?” Pamela asks.

“Not really,” Dean says. There’s a momentary note of amusement in his voice, quickly washed away by the familiar depression. “Picked up some kids, though.”

“Free children,” Pamela says, startled. “There’re still some running around out there?”

“Yep,” Dean says. “Free kids. Well, kind of free, anyway. Two boys. They said that they got away from angels.”

Pamela tilts her head. “I smell a ‘but’ in there.”

“They’re too emotional,” Dean says slowly. “Too…anyone who’s on a Grace high—or hell, even detoxing from it, no way they can get worked up. Something…it’s just messed up, what’s going on with them, Pamela.”

“I’m sure the Doc can figure it out,” Pamela says with a frown.

“He’s from the Nest of Purity,” Dean says, and the bitterness in his voice surprises her. “Trained by angels. You really trust him?”

Pamela raises an eyebrow. “Dean, you do know that less than ten percent of the humans here are free-born, right? And you yourself aren’t free-born, so I wouldn’t go pointing fingers if I were you. And hell, we used to work with an angel! Remember Anna?”

Dean’s quiet for a moment. Finally he says, “We broke up long before she died.”

“Yeah, but we were still in the same patrol. But yeah,” she adds dryly. “Hell fucked you guys right up, huh?”

Dean takes a sharp, sudden breath, and she shakes her head, instantly regretful. “I’m sorry,” she says, sensing Dean’s sudden stillness. “Shouldn’t have gone there. What happens in Hell stays in Hell.”

“No,” Dean says slowly. “It’s, uh, it’s fine. I, uh…I’m not. I’m not going to let it mess with me.”

“Yeah? Is it working?”

“A little bit,” Dean says. He huffs softly. “I mean, I don’t deal with them anymore. And time heals everything, isn’t that how the old cliché goes?”

“There’s cliché and then there’s real life,” Pamela says soberly. She touches his arm, seeking the solidity of touch. “It’ll be okay, Dean,” she says softly. It’s a lie, because life isn’t okay when you’re a human trapped between the angels and the demons, but it’s a pleasant fiction to hold close when you’ve got nothing else. “It’s all going to work out.”

She can tell by Dean’s laugh that while he doesn’t believe it, he knows the value of lies just as much as she does. “I know,” he says. His arm twitches under her touch before stilling, as if Dean has to force himself not to pull away. “Just saying life would be a lot simpler if everyone out there stopped fucking with us and shoving their drugs down our throats. Between Grace and Croat, what’s a guy got to do to say no?”

Pamela rubs Dean’s arm soothingly. “I’m with you on Grace,” she says. “And yeah, getting hooked on Croat can be dumb, but it gives people something to hold onto, Dean. Don’t begrudge them that.”

“Next thing you know, I’ll become a fucking addict,” Dean mutters. “Do the old chug-a-lug-o’-Croat route like Sam did.”

“So what’s stopping you?” she asks, genuinely curious.

Dean sighs. There’s a long, long hesitation before he finally speaks again, his voice low. “Do you think it’s wrong of me to do both?”

“You’re going to have to give me more than that, Dean,” she tells him gently. She pauses and then adds, “Unless you mean both Croat and Grace at the same time, in which case I am going to tell you that if you’re going to kill yourself, I’ve still got my old shotgun and it’ll be a lot cleaner.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Dean says with a humorless snort. “No, I’m not touching drugs. Not now, not ever. It’s just—do you think it’s okay to both grieve and—and want at the same time?”

Pamela hesitates, aware that she’s treading on dangerous territory. “Define want,” she says cautiously.

“As in for things you can’t have. Things you’re not supposed to fucking want,” Dean says, sounding tired.

“It’s okay to want Sam back,” she says quietly. “Even if it seems impossible—”

“I wish it was just Sam,” Dean says, and now he’s laughing, the sound chilling Pamela down to the core at the despair it contains. “No, it’s not Sam. It’s not that easy. I do want him back, I do, but if it were about just him I wouldn’t feel this bad. Damn it, Pamela, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!”

“None of us mortals do,” she says, alarmed at the sudden intensity of his voice. “Dean, what is it? It can’t possibly be that bad. Is it the demons? Are they offering you some sort of deal for Sam? Tell them to fuck off if that’s the case—”

“It’s not just Sam!” Dean shouts. She flinches with surprise, and his tone softens, instantly penitent. “Shit, Pamela, I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.”

“Well, just remember I can shout back,” she says after a moment. “And I can still kick your ass, blind or not.”

“Yeah, you can,” he says, but she knows that she’s losing him as his voice grows more distant. His fingers wrap around hers, gently removing her hand from his arm. “I, uh…I have to go.”

“Dean,” she says as she hears his chair scrape on the floor. “Dean!”

“Yeah, Pamela?” he asks, gathering up his trays if the clattering is any indication.

“Don’t…don’t do anything stupid,” she says. It’s weak, but she’s afraid to tip him in the wrong direction and in a foreign situation. “Not for yourself, not for Sam, not for anyone.”

“When have you known me to do anything but stupid things, Pamela?” Dean mutters. “Fucking up’s a Winchester specialty.”

She grabs his arm before he can walk away, her fingers snagging on the sleeve of his jacket. “Damn it, Dean. Stop fucking around, damn it. Sam might be gone, but you’re still alive. Don’t throw your life away on some stupid fit of self-pity.”

Dean’s quiet for a moment, long enough that she wonders if she’s heard him at all. Finally he says quietly, “What if it’s not about throwing it away, Pamela? I’m not suicidal, Pamela. Not—” he snorts humorlessly “—yet, anyway. But does it make me a coward to just—to just want it to end? To want to take something else and—and forget it?”

Pamela tightens her grip. “This isn’t about drugs,” she says, making it a statement rather than a question.

“This isn’t about drugs,” he agrees. “But I’m starting to think that drugs might be an easier option.”

She sighs. “Demons?”

“Nope.”

“Something else similarly suicidal?”

“Now you’re just guessing,” Dean says, but he sounds calmer now. “No, it’s…I think it might be a good thing. It—it’s different. But then I remember Sam, and I think, I shouldn’t…I can’t. Not while he’s…gone.”

Pamela ponders the possibilities in her mind. “Is it…does it make you happy?” she says at last, searching for clues. “Whatever this thing is that you’re wanting.”

“Happy?” he says slowly.

“Yes, Dean, happy,” she says, half-amused, half-exasperated by his hesitation. “A word that you haven’t heard for a long, long time, I bet.”

He laughs, a little ruefully. “Way to hit below the belt, Pamela.” He’s quiet for a moment. “I guess—maybe. I don’t know.”

“You Winchesters are not at home with Feelings, huh?” she says affectionately. “I know that—I know Sam’s a big part of who you are. Who we are. But uh…no. I don’t think it’s wrong to want something else, or to feel guilty for…not mourning.”

“I still do,” he says softly, intensely. “And I’m…part of me doesn’t want to let it go, Pamela.”

“You don’t have to let it go to get something else, Dean. I don’t think it’s wrong to want a reprieve from pain. Acceptance is the last step of grief, or so I hear.”

“Fucking psychologists. Never trusted those head-shrinkers,” Dean says, but he sounds pensive like he’s considering her words.

“You and me both,” she says, “but they have their uses. Or so I hear.”

“What about you, Pamela?” he asks suddenly, and she raises an eyebrow at how he turns the spotlight back on her. “How’re you dealing with everything?”

“It sucks. What’s new?” she says with a wry twist of her mouth.

“Beyond that?” he asks. She sighs and drops the glib act, seriously pondering her answer. She’s…she’s coping. You don’t need eyes to help condense and analyze intelligence, which is what she’s training for now. It’s not really as satisfying as being out in the field, though. She misses Anna like fuck, Sam too, and even in a way, Dean.

“The Father can go and suck it,” she says, surprising herself with the venom in her voice. “Him and all his angels. Well, except Anna; Anna was the only good one. We’ll beat the rest, Dean. Someday.”

“Fucking angels,” Dean says agreeably, but he sounds distant. “But yeah, Anna. And…yeah. They’re complicated sons of bitches.” He’s quiet for a moment longer before shaking himself and pulling his sleeve out of her grasp. “Thanks, Pamela.”

“Do I want to know for what?” she asks, pleased but slightly confused.

Dean waves her question off. “Just…thanks,” he says.

She hears his footsteps walk away, no doubt heading to dump his tray before he goes back to doing…whatever it is he’s doing. She sighs, turns back to her tray, and digs her spoon into her mush. Things change, people change, Oldtown changes. Damn, they had been so good once.

“But we’re still good,” she murmurs as both a prayer for the past and a wish for the future. “We’re still kicking along.”

She can only hope that her wish will come true.

~*~

Chapter 5
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